Harlan Ellison was a notorious jerk. Women avoided being in elevators with Isaac Asimov. Heinlein’s politics didn’t always make him popular.
None of these stories have attached to another giant of the field, Ben Bova. Instead, everyone who knew him had things to say about how nice he was.
I never had the pleasure. But Ben Bova was something else; a prolific writer, a brilliant editor, a skilled science journalist, an influence upon influencers and a working futurist who envisioned a world in which science would lead.
Who was Ben Bova?
Ben Bova was born Benjamin William Bova in Philadelphia in 1932. His science fiction writing career began in 1959 with the publication of The Star Conquerors (a book he apparently was quite embarrassed by later, although it was a solid early work).
At the same time, his career as a science writer began…and in that capacity he worked for the Apollo project.
In 1971, he was tapped as successor to John W. Campbell, Jr., and edited Analog for six years, then left to start his own magazine, Omni.
He was married three times and had two children. An atheist, he was an outspoken critic of religion, whilst never, to my knowledge, crossing the line into “anti-theism.”
He was also President Emiritus of the National Space Society and President of SFWA.
He wrote over 124 books, counting his non-fiction books.
The Last Great Pulp Writers
Ben Bova was the last of the great pulp writers. And I consider that a high compliment. Although neo-pulp has become a thing, it is sadly dominated by conservative influences that completely miss the spirit of what pulp should be.
And Bova was still writing it; he was writing hard science fiction of a type which is less fashionable today, but still has its adherents and its place. In fact, two more of his books are scheduled to be released in 2021.
With his passing an era ends, and that does not, of course, say anything negative about modern writers of hard SF. Much of what has changed is for the better, with the rise of Afrofuturism and beginnings of growth for Indigenous Futurism.
But Bova’s works represent the lingering echos of the Golden Age, in a good way.
An Influence on Influences
Here is where I confess that Bova is not one of my direct influences; indeed I have never been a huge fan of his work. (I do, of course, recognize its quality).
But when we look at writers he discovered and influenced, we start to see a picture of somebody almost as influential to the field as Campbell.
Vonda McIntyre, Spider Robinson, Orson Scott Card, Joe Haldeman — all discovered by Bova when he was editing Analog.
I suspect if I could detangle all of the chains, almost all modern SF writers can trace some influence to this man.
Ben Bova died on November 29 as a result of COVID-19. He was 88 years old and still actively working as a science fiction writer, journalist, and consultant.
We should have had so many more years of him.